It's Time to Freeze the Freeways

Consider these facts: 

1.  Under current state law, the state must make sharp reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. 

2.  Automobiles are the leading source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. 

3.  CalTrans now admits that "induced demand" exists, meaning that building new freeways will not lead to less traffic congestion, but will only create demand for more cars on the freeway. 

4.  CalTrans has approved a project to widen Interstate 5 through San Diego County at a cost of $3.5 billion.  Under their own admission, this means that there will be an increase in automobile use, and the resulting GHG emissions, in San Diego.   This is only one of many freeway expansion projects in California.

5.  Even if built, the I-5 expansion won't be complete for 30 to 40 years, past 2050. 

6.  A Princeton paper, echoing many others, concluded that by 2050, it is reasonable to assume that self-driving cars will dominate freeway traffic. 

7.  That same paper, and others, concluded that even though self-driving cars may result in more miles being travelled, their ability to drive closely results in less traffic on freeways.  Some have even suggested that the same amount of traffic could travel in a freeway of one-third the current size. 

8.  Although it is far from certain, that means CalTrans is moving forward on a project to spend billions of dollars on a freeway expansion when there is a reasonable probability that the project is entirely unnecessary. 

9.  San Diego's Bike Master Plan for the entire city is estimated to cost about $300 million, or one-tenth the cost of the freeway expansion.  There is no douby whatsoever that building a bike network and not building a freeway expansion would result in a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. 

 

I get that people are not certain about the future of self-driving cars and the effects they will have on our cities.  But I think nearly everyone can agree there is a strong possibility they are coming and, if they do, they could have a big impact on our roads.  Given this uncertainty, can SANDAG, the city, or the state justify spending billions of dollars on freeway expansions when they may be entirely unnecessary?  It seems the far more prudent course would be to freeze all freeway expansions for at least ten years to see where self-driving cars are going.  In the meantime, we can spend our limited resources on more valuable projects, like bike lanes and public transit.  If the promise of self-driving cars fades, we can then consider alternatives.  But there is no reason to commit to a waste of resources now.  This position becomes even stronger in light of all the other existing reasons for not expanding freeways.  So let's freeze the freeways in California, at least for a decade.